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I asked for volunteers, and Jeraldo (not his real name) stepped up. They were all excited, as the class has run for three weeks and I had not yet taught a single technique, focusing instead almost exclusively on ukemi. Well, today I wanted them to take ukemi for ikkyo. They had just learned shikko that class, and they were hungry for more.
Tense and excited, Jeraldo gabbed my wrist, using ai-dori . What would I do, he wondered? Would it hurt?
Suddenly, his head whipped up. "Wait!" he exclaimed. "Did you hear that? It was outside: sounded like someone saying 'you're going to get what's coming, now!' Did you all hear that?" All six pairs of ears were now attuned to noises outside, in hopes of tuning into the same wavelength as Jeraldo.
We were up on the second-floor, way in the back of the building. For someone to come into the Center, he'd have to ring the buzzer, wait to be buzzed in, climb a flight of steps, and make his way through a 30 or so milling students and people in the foyer, to finally reach where we were training. Immediate danger from outsiders was not a likely possibility.
And so, for the next few minutes, I attempted in vain to get the class to re-focus. But they wouldn't have it: they were caught in the spell of fascination and voyeuristic dread that accompanies traffic accidents: people just have to slow down and scan the area for blood...my students were attempting to tune into Jeraldo's aural impending traffic accident, all at the expense of precious class-time.
Inwardly sighing, I realized that this was one of those "hard lessons," that Sensei's must teach their students, now and again. "JerALDO!" I barked. "WHAT did I say about staying focused?! Sit DOWN! Someone else, volunteer!"
Jeraldo didn't take his removal from being the alpha student well. He first started verbally haranguing the next volunteer, and then he shoved his chest against the other, clearly attempting to re-establish dominance. My assistant and I talked Jeraldo down, and the lesson went on, uninterrupted.
A few kids later came up and asked me about earning rank. Why do they have to wait so long...? Can kids earn a black belt? What's the earliest age...? etc. I rolled my eyes, ruefelly remembering my kyu-ranking days, and the anticipation and yes, avaricious glee, I felt, in anticipation of my shodan, before any of these kids were born.
I try to tell them that it's not the rank: it's what you understand, about Aikido. But they are still stuck in this idea of dominance, and hierarchy. To some of them, a rank means official recognition of their social pecking-order. But am I any better?
Fold the mats away, change to my civvie's, out the door. Just as I leave, I see Jeraldo and the other volunteer working on ai-dori ikkyo together.
To myself, I smile. The road to learning is rarely linear.